A Civil War Biography
John Smith Preston
Preston was born at Salt Works, the family's large plantation near
Abington, Virginia on 20 April 1809. He graduated from
Hampden-Sidney College in 1824 then studied law at the University of
Virginia and Harvard College. In 1830 he married Caroline Hampton of
Columbia, South Carolina, the daughter of Wade Hampton, the
Revolutionary War general. Preston initially established a law
practice in Abington before relocating to Columbia. He was engaged
in sugar planting in Louisiana and established a large plantation
near Baton Rouge.
A distinguished orator, Preston was praised for his 1848 address
welcoming the Palmetto regiment back from the war with Mexico. He
was chairman of the Democratic convention that met at Charleston in
May 1860. After the election of Abraham Lincoln, Preston, an ardent
secessionist, as a commissioner to Virginia, in February 1861 made
an eloquent plea in favor of Virginia withdrawing from the Union.
He joined the Confederate army and as a lieutenant colonel was
attached to the staff of Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard who
commended Preston for his efficiency at First Manassas. He was then
assigned as an assistant adjutant general in South Carolina where
one of his duties would have been to supervise the prison camp in
Columbia. He also performed recruiting duties. In April of 1863 he
was promoted to colonel.
On 30 July 1863 he was assigned as superintendent of the Bureau of
Conscription, the position he held until 17 May 1865 when the
position, along with the Confederate government ceased to exist.
Following the war, Preston, who had been promoted to brigadier
general on 10 June 1864, fled to England where he remained until
Always unreconstructed, he incurred the severe criticism of the
Northern press when he delivered the commencement at the University
of Virginia, during which he made a fervent assertion of the right
of secession. Preston's last appearance as an orator was at the
dedication of the Confederate monument in Columbia. Preston died 1
May 1881 in Columbia.
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